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It Has Become the No-Name Open : Nicklaus Heads a Celebrity List of Casualties; Chen Retains His Lead

Times Staff Writer

What golf tournament is this, the United States Open or the Whozatt Open?

Jack Nicklaus, winner of four U.S. Opens, five Masters, five PGAs and three British Opens, is out. T.C. Chen, a visitor from Taiwan, is leading.

Tom Watson, 1984 PGA Player of the Year, is out. The other Watson, Denis of South Africa, equaled the course record of 65 and is fifth. Andy North, the 1978 Open champion who has not won a tournament since, also had a 65 and is tied for second with Jay Haas.

Bernhard Langer, the Masters champion, is out. Rick Fehr, a 22-year-old mini-tour player from Seattle who doesn’t even have a tournament players card, shot a 67 and is fourth.

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Lee Trevino, the PGA champion, is out. Dave Barr, a Canadian whose biggest win in eight years was the Quad Cities, shot a 68 and is in.

Craig Stadler shot an 80 and is out. Ben Crenshaw even had a hole-in-one but is out. Who’s in? How about Jeff Grygiel, a struggling mini-tour player from Kirksville, N.Y. Or Freddie Funk, the University of Maryland golf coach.

It was the greatest carnage of name players in U.S. Open history.

Is the Oakland Hills course a monster or a pussycat? Twenty-four players--an Open record--bettered par (70) Friday on the course where few expected the winner to be more than a couple of strokes under par. The most subpar rounds before was 20 in 1981 at Merion.

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Chen, a pleasant young man who stands 112th on the 1985 money list, equaled the all-time U.S. Open record for 36 holes with his six-under-par 65-69--134. Only Nicklaus, at Baltusrol in 1980, had shot 134 for two rounds.

For the second day in a row, a foreign golfer playing in his first U.S. Open equaled Oakland Hills’ record 65--a Taiwanese on Thursday and a South African on Friday.

Meanwhile, the greatest golfer in U.S. history, Nicklaus, struggled to a 76-73--149 and missed the cut by three strokes. It was the first time Nicklaus had missed the last two days in an Open since 1963--and only the fifth time in 93 major championships since turning pro in 1962.

“I can either keep on trying or I can quit,” Nicklaus said as he and his caddy, Jack Nicklaus II, packed his bags. “I think I’ll keep on trying. The truth is, I seem to be going through a stretch of time where I’m not playing too well. I wish I knew why.”

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Nicklaus, 45, might look at the PGA Tour statistics. He stands first in Greens in Regulation, but he is 162nd in Putting. He had 30 putts Friday. By contrast, Denis Watson had 23.

“Maybe the wrong Nicklaus was carrying the clubs,” quipped a friend of Jack’s. “The caddy is the last one in the family to win.” Jackie II won the North-South Amateur last month at Pinehurst, N.C. Jack Sr. has not won since the 1984 Memorial.

In Nicklaus’ last three tournaments, he finished 54th, 53rd and 35th.

Chen retained his lead despite one of the shakiest starts an Open leader has experienced.

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He drove into a bunker with his opening tee shot and failed to reach the green with his second shot. He chipped up and sank a downhill 10-footer to save par.

On No. 2, a 527-yard par-five where Chen made his historic double-eagle 2 Thursday, he drove into another fairway bunker.

“I really tried to hit it too hard,” he said. “I wanted to get on the green in two and make eagle there today.”

Chen hit a 7-iron from the trap, wedged over the green, chipped back and sank an eight-foot putt to save his par.

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On the fourth hole, he chipped in from 30 yards for a birdie, and on the sixth, he hit an 8-iron from the rough to set up a 12-foot birdie putt.

“The first six holes my driver kept me in trouble so I am happy I am finishing one under par today,” Chen said. “I feel better because I hit the fairway on every hole the back nine.”

Haas, a nephew of 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby, shot 69-66, and North, coming out of a three-year slump, shot 70-65, to share the 135 slot, one stroke off the lead.

Had it not been for a controversial two-stroke penalty inflicted on Denis Watson during Thursday’s first round, he would also be in second place. He was assessed the penalty for waiting too long for his ball to drop into the cup on the eighth hole.

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“The rule is a little cranky,” Watson said. “The putt was 10 feet, downhill, and the green was spiked up. I thought it was in, but it stopped, hanging over the cup. I walked up to see how close it was and said, ‘I think it’s still moving,’ and backed off. It didn’t fall, and I stepped up to knock it in when it fell in the hole. An official came up and told me I’d taken too long, that I’d stood there 35 seconds when the rule is 10 seconds, whether the ball is still moving or not. That’s the rule, so I was wrong, but I think the way it was handled was disappointing. I was quite upset at the time and bogeyed the next two holes.”

Watson said he didn’t think the incident spurred him on to his 65 Friday.

“Once the round (Thursday’s) was over and the penalty was official, I forgot it,” he said. “Golf is a very tormenting game. If you dwell on things like that, you lose sight of your reason for playing. Which is to play the game one shot at a time against the golf course.”

Watson played quite well against the course, mixing seven birdies with two bogeys. The big blow was a 50-foot putt that broke at least twice before finding the cup on the 10th green.

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North had the tournament’s only bogeyless round, getting off to a fast start with two birdies in a row and finishing the same way with birdies on the last two holes.

“It always helps when you start out well,” North said. “It gives you a cushion on the course.”

He birdied No. 2 by blasting out of a bunker within six inches of the hole, then got another birdie on the next hole with a 10-foot putt. His third birdie came on No. 7, where he chipped in from 18 feet above the hole.

“I was feeling pretty good after I saved par with a good putt at 16. It was about 15 feet, and when I went to the tee at No. 17, I was pretty pumped up.”

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North ripped a 3-iron on the 201-yard hole that nearly went in the cup, leaving him a two-foot tap-in for birdie. The 18th, a 453-yard par-four, is one of the most difficult at Oakland Hills, but North followed a long drive with a 6-iron shot that stopped on the crest of a knoll, about 30 feet from the hole.

“All I had in mind was nudging the ball down near the hole and getting off the course with my low round, but it dribbled over the mound and rolled and rolled and dropped in. Making that putt was the farthest thought from my mind. I have no idea how it went in. But it did.”

Haas credited a change in his swing, which enables him to hit long fades off the tee, for his success here. He hit 16 greens, and his only two bogeys came from three-putting the radically undulating greens.

“I’m pretty conservative,” he said. “I don’t make many birdies, only eight in two days, but I’ve been avoiding making many mistakes. I hope to keep on doing that and see what happens.”

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Fehr is probably the most surprising of the leaders. He graduated from Brigham Young University last August and turned pro, but he failed to get past regional qualifying for his PGA card. For the last six months, he has been playing with minimal success in mini-tours.

“I had to qualify for the Open at Los Angeles, but I felt good about playing here. I have a pretty good record in majors. This is my fourth one, and I made the cut in three of them.”

Crenshaw used a 3-wood for his hole-in-one on the 218-yard ninth hole, but his 78-72--150 score left him with nowhere to go but back home to Texas. Also apparently heading home to Texas was former British Open champion Bill Rogers, who shot an 81 Thursday and walked off the course after opening with a double-bogey 6 on the first hole Friday.

Sixty-six players, including amateurs Jay Sigel and U.S. Amateur champion Scott Verplank, qualified for the final two rounds with scores of 146 or better.

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When Nicklaus and his playing partner, amateur Sam Randolph of Santa Barbara and USC, both failed to qualify, it ruined a good Father’s Day angle for Sunday. Nicklaus had his son as a caddy, and Randolph had his father as his caddy.


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